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May 11, 2008 01:41 PM

Komi: Excellence at the Next Level

I have missed Fabio. When he left Maestro last August I thought that it would be a long time before we would find a restaurant in the Washington area as personal, as excellent, as "worth a journey" as was his. We've enjoyed CityZen, Citronelle, Eve, Vidalia and Palena on recent visits yet there has not been anywhere that has stoked the passion we knew, the sense of anticipation, the unbridled hunger we had for a dinner at Maestro.

Until last night at Komi.

Over three and one half hours my wife and I sampled our way through over eighteen tastes and courses as well as nearly two bottles of wine before staggering appreciatively out the door, sated, satisfied and smiling.

Johnny Monis, as Fabio Trabocchi before him, is currently nominated for a James Beard award for national under 30 chef of the year in the United States. As Fabio was a gift to the D. C. area so is Johnny Monis. And he should win the award. Six years ago I compared Fabio to Massimiliano at Rubano's three Michelin star Le Calandre. Today, I respectfully compare Johnny Monis to Fabio. He, his staff and his restaurant are THAT good.

Unfortunately, I did not take notes. I remember an incredible six inch wide live diver scallop that was presented to us before the dinner; two black nettled softball bodied Sea Urchins on a similar platter; incredible tender, moist, succulent crispy skinned lamb that alone was worth a trip to Athens, "salad" with mesclun and goat cheese deep fried in a fragile, crispy crust, pea size morsels of fresh, raw nearly orgasmic lobster and a half dozen spoon size servings of exquisitely prepared raw seafood I would long for in Santorini: all on Seventeenth street in D. C. with the welcoming neighborhood outside of the front window.

And a staff stoked, honored and respectful of what their kitchen was preparing with service that was on par with any three Michelin star restaurant we have ever experienced in Europe. The antithesis of what we found two Saturdays ago in Baltimore at the affected Charleston. A discussion that my wife and I had at the table for how a chef suffers or prospers for the enthusiasm and presentation of those in their dining rooms. Komi prospers, is enhanced, embellished and complimented. Yet friendly, indulgent, enthusiastic and caring. As fine of service as we have found on either side of the Atlantic.

And a knowledgeable, passionate sommelier to equal Vincent or Mark. Worthy of their restaurants or his restaurant, Komi. With a respectfully priced wine list that allows indulgence and compliments what his Chef puts on the table.

Also, a dishwasher to respect since every single course introduced new silverware and new plates. The analogy with Fabio comes full circle, not just with age, food, taste and vision but also with the Sterling based wholesaler, Fortessa, who supplies most of the tableware. There are shapes, pedastals and platters unseen in most other restaurants that are on the center of the stage here.

Oohs and ahs have returned to the D. C. area, whether Tyson's or Seventeenth street.

To Johnny Monis: you honor D. C. with a wonderful, extraordinarily creative world class restaurant. Whether presented as Obelisk at the next level or a minimalist Maestro, your restaurant is one of the finest in America as well as one of the absolute best anywhere. Thank you for sharing your talent, vision and growth with us.


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  1. Joe,

    So glad you had the opportunity to try Komi and enjoyed it.

    I have been telling anyone willing to listen that Johnny Monis is one of the most underrated chefs in the country. Maybe he is finely getting some more recognition lately, but I believe deserving of more.

    1. joe, what is orgasmic lobster? a typo?

      1 Reply
      1. re: alkapal

        A dish that tastes better than it should...

      2. nice review. I share the same feelings about Komi as you do and the amount of raw seafood preparations you were served, makes me want to go again ASAP. Was that a special request or part of a standard degustation meal?

        13 Replies
        1. re: cleveland park

          It was the larger (i.e. $108 prix fixe) meal. I'm guessing that the enormous diver scallop presented in its shell depends totally on availability. I should also note that their markup on wine is much less than I would have anticipated. Perhaps 60-70% over average retail. And, perhaps remarkably, the dining room was full at 6:15.

          1. re: cleveland park

            I was planning on trying Komi sometime over the summer, but did not know that such a large number of dishes were raw. Do you think they would accomodate for someone who doesn't eat raw meat or seafood?

              1. re: cleveland park

                My wife doesn't eat raw meat or seafood, either. (Nor foie gras...) She described several of these (scallop and a lobster preparation were the best) as among the best dishes she has ever tasted anywhere. I don't believe the "smaller" prix fixe ($85 or so and about 9-10 courses/tastes) had nearly as many. Still, forgive my insistence, but at Komi you will really lose a lot but not at least trying one or two of these. Literally, they are only one or two bites each.

                Komi did not have foie gras but I talked my wife into trying it about ten years ago at Violon d'Ingres in Paris (after a lot of wine!). Now she loves it, even when she's not in Paris! Still, today, she will tell you that she doesn't like raw seafood nor foie gras. In fact when she first saw Komi's menu she said, and I quote: "yuck."

                The "yuck" became one of her best meals.

                1. re: Joe H

                  Sounds like you have a choice between a small and a large tasting menu. We're going on Saturday night. I think we're going with the large tasting menu unless you tell me it's going to be gut busting.

                  1. re: Ericandblueboy

                    It's not. I believe 17 or 18 tastes and servings most of which were one or two bites. Strongly urge the larger menu to appreciate this restaurant. You'll leave full but not uncomfortably so.

                    1. re: Joe H

                      However, with the smaller menu you can choose the pasta, meat and dessert courses, while the larger menu these courses are chosen for you from the options. In retrospect, I would have preffered to choose my own. The pasta course chosen for me was my least preferred option, although the goat for two was great (my wife loved it and I otherwise would not have chosen it). For the dessert my wife and I had to swap, as she was not a fan of the basil custard that she was given and was eyeing the chcolate dessert placed in front of me. You really only get a few additions to the mezze and a cheese course with the larger option, and the cheese course (a cheese ice cream when we were there) really wasn't one of the best courses. If I went back, I'd probably choose the smaller option, not because of the amount of food, but because you have more influence over the menu.

                      1. re: Jason1

                        so there were items that you could have chose with the smaller tasting that you would not otherwise get with the larger tasting? It also seems like you two didn't get the same things with the larger tasting. Do they explain all this to you up front and present you with both menus prior to ordering?

                        1. re: Ericandblueboy

                          At my table, and those around me, the men were served certain courses and the women were served certain courses for the pasta, meat and dessert courses of the larger tasting. In this case, it's more of a surprise, and the menu's not presented prior. However, all of the item's come from the main menu, which is used to select the courses for the smaller tasting. Now that I read this over, this might make it sound more confusing than it should be.

                          1. re: Jason1

                            Were there 18 courses on the large tasting menum, so that the total number of dishes tasted exceed 18 (because men and women had some different dishes)? Or the total number of different dishes is 18, with the number of courses being less? In any case, the main menu had items that were not covered by the large tasting menu, and of those items not covered, there were some that you coveted? I think for my first try, I'll go with the large tasting menu.

                            1. re: Ericandblueboy

                              I'm sure you can request certain dishes on the larger tasting menu. On our visit in May a couple at an adjacent table ordered the shorter menu at virtually the same time we placed our's. Our dinner lasted at least an hour longer with a number of courses/tastes (the diver scallop in its shell, the incredible presentation of the black nettled Sea Urchins) not part of the shorter menu on this evening. There are going to be several courses/tastes that you may not like or others that you prefer more. Regardless, the larger menu will allow you to fully sample the breadth of his ability; I am certain that there are several courses/tastes that are simply not available on the shorter tasting menu. Several of the presentations were showstopping: the couple at the next table swooned at several of the dishes we were served. Last, I really do hesitate to call these "courses." At least seven or eight of them were literally one or two bites.

                              Whichever tasting you order try and request the diver scallop in its shell, the Sea Urchin and the lobster sashimi if they are available. All three were extraordinary.

                              The greatest "adventure" at Komi is to trust the chef and try tastes you would never otherwise consider. Not all will be outstanding, but those that are will be memorable. You probably will not have experienced them otherwise. This is not a place to go with the familiar. It is not what it is all about.

                              1. re: Joe H

                                Joe, what was your experience at your Charleston visit you mentioned? Attitudinal?

                                1. re: chowsearch


                                  My complete post is about halfway down the thread. Komi and Charleston are polar opposites stylistically.

          2. Having dined at Komi on Thursday, agree completely with your assessment. It was a wondrous experience, with such a vast palette of ingredients, that I can't imagine how large the walk-in must be. An utterly phenomenal experience in every way, from food, to wine pairings, to service, to the hip and cool relaxed ambience. I've probably already posted on Komi threads far too much, but I am that impressed. The only dining experience I've had that even is in the same plane is Cyrus, in Healdsburg, CA, and I'd be hard pressed to choose the better, given the large differenced between them. This place, to me, is a gem that will undoubtedly only get better, and consequently harder for me to get a reservation for, but I shall return.

            1. Thank you for the review. Can anyone tell me how difficult it is to get a reservation here? How long in advance should I plan for a weeknight around 8PM?

              1 Reply
              1. re: kathode

                They take reservations one month in advance (book on June 3rd for July 3rd, etc.). You should try to call on that day if possible, but it's not nearly as hard as minibar.